Archive | August, 2017

The Fall of Constantinople

31 Aug

It is inservice week and teachers are complaining. We want to work in our classrooms and get ready for Tuesday, not sit on backless cafeteria tables for three hours. I hit my low point today and made four trips to the bathroom because my brain and back had reached  their limits.

A teacher at my table was working on a unit about the Byzantine Empire, and I couldn’t help but get off topic to tell him about the portrayal of the Fall of Constantinople in Kiersten White’s Now I Rise,  the second book of The Conqueror’s Saga, about a female Impaler, who we know best as Dracula.

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Second books in trilogies can be tricky things. They are often disappointments because they are repetitive or feel like a place holder for the forward momentum that will come in the final book. Fortunately, Now I Rise does not suffer from second book syndrome. Readers who enjoyed  And I Darken,  will be captivated by the two narratives: Lada’s political aspirations in Wallachia, and Radu’s experiences in Constantinople before, during and after its fall.

Author’s Summary: Lada Dracul has no allies. No throne. All she has is what she’s always had: herself. After failing to secure the Wallachian throne, Lada is out to punish anyone who dares to cross her blood-strewn path. Filled with a white-hot rage, she storms the countryside with her men, accompanied by her childhood friend Bogdan, terrorizing the land. But brute force isn’t getting Lada what she wants. And thinking of Mehmed brings little comfort to her thorny heart. There’s no time to wonder whether he still thinks about her, even loves her. She left him before he could leave her.

What Lada needs is her younger brother Radu’s subtlety and skill. But Mehmed has sent him to Constantinople—and it’s no diplomatic mission. Mehmed wants control of the city, and Radu has earned an unwanted place as a double-crossing spy behind enemy lines Radu longs for his sister’s fierce confidence—but for the first time in his life, he rejects her unexpected plea for help. Torn between loyalties to faith, to the Ottomans, and to Mehmed, he knows he owes Lada nothing. If she dies, he could never forgive himself—but if he fails in Constantinople, will Mehmed ever forgive him?

As nations fall around them, the Dracul siblings must decide: what will they sacrifice to fulfill their destinies? Empires will topple, thrones will be won . . . and souls will be lost.

As a history buff, I loved the glossary, the  list of major and minor characters, and the author’s note. It helped me see what we know from history and where White got creative.

The final book in the trilogy is scheduled to come out in June 2018. I am sad that I will have to wait, but I am glad to have something to look forward to read in Summer 2018.

 

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A Little Luck

29 Aug

 See a penny pick it up.

All the day you’ll have good luck.

I don’t really believe that old superstition.

And yet, whenever I see a penny on the ground, I pick it up and recite the rhyme. It is just what I do.

I don’t really believe picking up pennies will bring me luck.

And yet, last week, while taking Lucy for a walk, I found a penny and picked it up. A littler further on, I found another penny and a dime. I picked those up, too. If a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, what is 12¢ worth, I wondered.Did I now have 12 times the luck I’d left the house with?

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Going back

28 Aug

I go back to school today. It is a good thing, though I had really bad Sunday Night-itis last night.

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In The Pearl Thief, author Elizabeth Wein goes back in time to tell a story about Julie, the main character from Code Name Verity, before she was Verity.

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I am always nervous to read a new book about a character I love, and doubly so when it is about a character in a book I adored. And I adored Julie and Code Name Verity.

I shouldn’t have worried. Wein knows Julie well and gives us some insights into the girl who will become Verity.

From the author’s website: Not quite sixteen-year-old Julie Beaufort-Stuart is returning to her family’s Perthshire ancestral home in Scotland for one last summer. It is not an idyllic return to childhood. Her grandfather’s death has forced the sale of the house and estate and this will be a summer of goodbyes. Not least to the McEwen family – Highland Travellers who have been part of the landscape for as long as anyone can remember – loved by the family, loathed by the authorities. Tensions are already high when a respected London archivist goes missing, presumed murdered. Suspicion quickly falls on the McEwens, but Julie knows not one of them would do such a thing and is determined to prove everyone wrong. And then she notices the family’s treasure trove of pearls is missing.

This beautiful and evocative novel is the story of the irrepressible and unforgettable Julie, set in the year before the Second World War and the events of Code Name Verity. It is also a powerful portrayal of a community under pressure and one girl’s determination for justice.

As always, Wein firmly sets her novel in its place. I read, I felt as though I was in Scotland, with Julie and even got out my atlas of the UK to figure out where it was all taking place. She gives us some details in back, along with some great info on Travellers and Scottish pearls. But is Julie’s voice that gives the book its power. It was good to get to hear it again.

 

Change is coming

27 Aug

Teachers in my district go back to work tomorrow. I went to school three days last week in order to get some work done, but also to practice getting up and going to work. It makes the transition easier.

The main character in Paul Mosier’s Train I Ride doesn’t get a chance to practice. Rydr has change thrust upon her.

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In case you can’t see it, the blurb on the front says “She found her family before she found her home.

Publisher’s Summary: A beautifully poignant debut perfect for fans of authors such as Rebecca Stead and Sharon Creech and books like Ali Benjamin’s The Thing About Jellyfish. When Rydr travels by train from Los Angeles to Chicago, she learns along the way that she can find family wherever she is.

Rydr is on a train heading east, leaving California, where her gramma can’t take care of her anymore, and traveling to Chicago, to live with an unknown relative. She brings with her a backpack, memories both happy and sad, and a box, containing something very important.

As Rydr meets her fellow passengers and learns their stories, her own story begins to emerge. It’s one of sadness and heartache, and one Rydr would sometimes like to forget. But as much as Rydr may want to run away from her past, on the train she finds that hope and forgiveness are all around her, and most importantly, within her, if she’s willing to look for it.

There is so much I love about this book. Rydr is a little hard to like at first, but she blossoms as she meets strangers on the train and starts forming her family. Although Rydr is white, the other characters are a diverse lot. Set over the course of three days on a train, we are able to see Rydr blossom, and I can’t lie, this book made me cry. It also made me want to read Howl,  by Allen Ginsburg.

This book might be a long shot for the Newbery, but it is one my Mock Newbery Club will read.

Speaking of my Mock Newbery club, thanks to everyone who contributed to my Donors Choose project. That is complete and the books will ship to arrive after September 8th. I have a second fundraiser running through our local, district based donors choose type program and I am only $250 away from fulfilling that, but it seems to have stalled.  You can help me complete it by making a tax-deductible donation here. I am thankful for whatever you can do to help.

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Happy Book Birthday

24 Aug

On Tuesday, along with other members of the Beaverton Education Association executive board members, I attended a district event for new teachers. We greeted them, provided coffee, snacks and swag, and our president told them about how the union works. While handing out swag, we veteran teachers reminisced about teachers we’d mentored and how we feel like part of their family.

It is not unlike being a member of YALSA’s William C. Morris Committee. I feel as though I have a connection to the five authors we chose as finalists, and that is why I am excited to tell you that it is the book birthday of one of those authors.

Stephanie Oakes’ second novel, The Arsonist,  was released this week!

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Publisher’s Summary: Code Name Verity meets I Am the Messenger in this riveting YA novel from Morris Award finalist Stephanie Oakes, in which three points of view are woven together in a story that’s part Cold War mystery, part contemporary coming-of-age, and completely unputdownable.

This is a complex story. As each character narrates, your mind is trying to figure out how it all works. Oakes is crafty, telling us just enough from one character’s point of view in a chapter, then switching to another – a move that kept me reading.
Like her previous book, The Secret Lies of Minnow Bly,  the ending isn’t necessarily a happy one. But it is maybe the most realistic outcome we can hope for in a work of fiction.

Not everyone’s cup of tea

23 Aug

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You are either going to love or hate The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee. I loved it.

When I first started listening to the audiobook, I did not really like Monty in the first chapter. He seemed an arrogant and entitled dissolute young man. But there is a reason the title has vice before virtue. As the story unfolds, we see Monty’s transformation as he learns to look beyond himself and see the needs and experiences of others. And I grew to love him. I also loved the humor. The summary below uses the word “romp” and that is the perfect word for the grand tour and Monty, Percy, and Felicity reel from place to place and misadventure to misadventure.

Although she was a secondary character, I loved Felicity. She is getting her own book next year. According to Goodreads, The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy is “narrated by Felicity and featuring travel, pirates, and a science girl gang”.

Christian Coulson’s narration is fabulous. The novel is written in the first person and Coulson captures Percy’s arrogance perfectly in addition to his confusion and transformation.

There is sexual activity and language, so this is a book for mature readers.

Publisher’s Summary:  A young bisexual British lord embarks on an unforgettable Grand Tour of Europe with his best friend/secret crush. An 18th-century romantic adventure for the modern age written by This Monstrous Thing author Mackenzi LeeSimon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda meets the 1700s.

Henry “Monty” Montague doesn’t care that his roguish passions are far from suitable for the gentleman he was born to be. But as Monty embarks on his grand tour of Europe, his quests for pleasure and vice are in danger of coming to an end. Not only does his father expect him to take over the family’s estate upon his return, but Monty is also nursing an impossible crush on his best friend and traveling companion, Percy.

So Monty vows to make this yearlong escapade one last hedonistic hurrah and flirt with Percy from Paris to Rome. But when one of Monty’s reckless decisions turns their trip abroad into a harrowing manhunt, it calls into question everything he knows, including his relationship with the boy he adores.

Witty, dazzling, and intriguing at every turn, The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue is an irresistible romp that explores the undeniably fine lines between friendship and love.

Post-apoc-eclips-ish

22 Aug

I had intended to write a post about how I sat, eclipse glasses on, knitting  my 2018 Back-to-School socks with my eclipse yarn, during yesterday’s eclipse.

It didn’t quite work out that way.

I started planning weeks ago. I bought my eclipse glasses on the way home from Bend in the first week of August. I tested them Sunday, just to understand what I would see.

I preordered my “Total Eclipse of the Sun” yarn, picked it up on Saturday and cast on my 2018 Back-to-School socks Monday night. I wanted to be ready.

 

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Yesterday, I made sure Lucy took a potty break just before 9 a.m.  Her tummy has been a little off and I didn’t want  any accidents (cosmic or biological proportions) while the eclipse was going on.

A little after 9, I heard on the radio that the event was beginning. I donned my glasses, opened my front door  and took a look. A  nibble appeared on the sun’s upper right edge. I felt more excited than I thought I’d be. No one else was out and we still had at least an hour before we made it to the 99.2% eclipse we were expecting in Portland. I had joked earlier in the day that we were in the Path of Totalitish.  I puttered happily in the house, then decided to pop my head out again. And that is when my glasses slipped.

It was a mere, momentary flash in my right eye, but that was enough. I quickly entered the house and tested my vision. I was OK, but when my eyes were closed, I could see the residual image of the eclipsing sun. I had heard on the radio that such an accident probably wouldn’t cause blindness, but I was spooked. I stayed in the house for a while testing my eye, relieved that, within about 20 minutes, the residual image had disappeared. But I was done with my ill-fitting glasses.

I heard my neighbors setting up in the courtyard popped my hatted head out the door again, facing away from the sun. They had eclipse glasses and pinholed paper plates.

I had found these directions on-line earlier in the day and sent them to my brother-in-law who had no glasses. He had made one, tested it and said it worked, so I knew I could be safe and experience the eclipse.

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I had a box I’d been planing to use to for the classroom books I’d collected over the summer.  I grabbed it and got to work.

I almost gave up when I realized I had used up the last of my tape that morning on a package I planned to mail today. Of course, I could find no glue. Fortunately, I have a “can do” attitude and found some stickers I could use as tape.

I made sure the foil was well secured.

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Then I attached the paper that would capture the image,

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Voilà! I felt safe to join my neighbors.

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Feeling more confident, I had a great time in the courtyard with my neighbors, who were also a little skittish about blinding themselves.  They mostly used their pinhole devices, but, from time to time they put on their glasses and quickly turned to look at the eclipsing sun, then back again. We laughed at how much more excited we were than we’d expected to be.

We noted the darkening world, the dropping temperatures, the strange color of the light as the moon moved across the sun. When we got to the point that was as close to 99.2% as we were getting,  the light seemed almost orange and we noticed strange patterns that I later learned were called shadow bands. It was fun to go into the street and, back to the sun, and doff my box to see all the people who were home and excited by the eclipse.

“The sun is still frowning,” my neighbor James commented.

“It was a smile inside my box,” I joked, realizing the pin-hole camera had given me a reversed image. My near disaster had turned into a community event. Everyone was amazed.

When the process started reversing itself,  I donned my box once more and saw that the smile was getting bigger. People started slipping back in to their homes and, before too long, the sun was fully back in the sky. I brought my box back into my house, and set it back near the stack of books I will take in to school later this week.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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